Author Topic: Tales from The Cage  (Read 2231 times)

Gen. Dreedle

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Tales from The Cage
« on: October 04, 2011, 04:03:41 PM »
I had a thought...........

What if, for some obtuse reason, Greaser's Palace ceased to be. It could happen. I have no say, in what goes on, over there. So, I imagine anything is possible.

And what if it does go belly-up? A lo of great entertainment will be lost, forever.

So, as an insurance policy, I am going to pull some of my stuff, and post it here. Just in case. Since I really have no right to pull posts, from other folks, there will be, by necessity, holes in some of it.

I seem to recall a certain Eurocrat getting his knickers in a knot, when someone compiled the wisdom of The Devil.

So, without further ado..............here they are...............
"Major Danby, sir."
"Danby. D-A-N-B-Y."
"Take him out and shoot him."
"Sir?"
"I said take him out and shoot him. Can't you hear?"

Gen. Dreedle

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Re: Tales from The Cage
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2011, 04:04:20 PM »
Talking about TO-126 transistors, and how those of us in the USA shun stuff from Europe, gave me an idea.

I know that some of you out there are Googling where I used to work. (I still don't know why you want to know.) But that gave me some ideas about some of the more moronic things that happened at one of those places.

The reason I say "The Cage" is because at one time I really did work in a cage. No, not because of my repellent personality, although that may have been a consideration. "The Cage" was an area that at one time housed all of the spare parts for the entire company. It then held all of the test equipment. Then it held some other spares of some sorts. They needed a place for the Failure Analysis Dept., and since it was a one-man department...............and considering who that department was..............yeah, who else would you stick in there.

So, I got stuck in The Cage. Seems fitting in retrofit.

On to the war stories.
"Major Danby, sir."
"Danby. D-A-N-B-Y."
"Take him out and shoot him."
"Sir?"
"I said take him out and shoot him. Can't you hear?"

Gen. Dreedle

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Re: Tales from The Cage
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2011, 04:05:06 PM »
Hard as this may seem, as recent as the late 70s, I was not allowed to use plastic transistors. A lot of our engineers came from Collins Radio, and they had a military-gear view of the world.

So, not only did we never see "fer'n" transistors, the ones we used had to have that metal-can military feel. It wasn't just where I worked. I once went to some sort of local nerd gathering, and one engineer loudly complained that because we had to make stuff to look like it was Mil Spec, that we were stuck using "antiquated crap like TO-3 transistors". This guy really hated them. I did, but had not as of this time seen any of those plastic Japanese output devices.

So.........back to The Cage........

We had this 70 MHz IF amp that would crap out when it got hot. (Which it did, and it was in an 8' high rack. Full of gear.) We figured out (I had help by this point) that it was a certain transistor. It was like a 2N918, only it had a 900 MHz vs 600 MHz f_t. (Maybe it was 1200 MHz vs 900 MHz. Too long ago to remember.)

Well, couldn't find those parts. TI stopped making the metal cans, and only National still made them. Cost $5. If you could find them. No one stocked them.

So, kvetched to the boss. His choice:

Plastic transistor, at $2.

"NO! None of that plastic crap. Understand?"

Uh...........ok...............how 'bout 2N918. Similar, cheap, and easy to get in metal cans.

"If Collins wanted a '918 in there, then they would have designed in a '918."

So, what to do? Easy, boss had me turn over my request for the metal can ones over to our Purchasing Dept.

In Wash., DC. You know, up north. People with attitudes worse than mine.

Wait a few months, and something showed up. You could see the the Nat Semi logo had been rubbed out, along with p/n. But not enough to know what it was.

Uh, oh............this portends poorly............

To make it worse, there was now a cheesy rubber stamped imprint on the top. P/n only. No indication who "made" it.

Things are looking worse.

Could it get any worse?

YES!

Every damn part in the bag had opens, shorts, or both. IOW, some were not even diodes, let alone a specialised RF device.

Time to call the schmuck who bought them. But not until after I clued in the VP I reported to.

"Hey, bub.............these transistors that you bought for me...."

"Yeah, glad you got them. How did they work out?"

"Uh, they don't."

"What do you mean? I got those for under $2/ea. The place you sent me to wanted over $5/ea. for them. How can you justify spending that much when I found them for much less?"

"The reason why you got them for less is because they aren't transistors.(You gotta be firm with those folks up there.) They don't work. They are unusable. I can't stick them in my ham radio. I can't even stick them in my "hi fi". They don't work. Period. I can't use them. You bought some fallouts from National that one of your East Coast buddies that runs some schlock house that sells re-branded crap. (Nice tact, eh?) You can even see where they tried to remove the National logo. So, what are you going to do about it?"

At this point he becomes defensive, and tries to stall for time. (Wouldn't you? With me on the far end, giving you grief.)

"Well, I don't care what you do with these damn things. You better find a way to get me the right ones before my boss wants to know why I still have a stack of IF amps that don't work. You do realise that my boss is Sully, don't you?" (He wasn't my direct boss, but he was the local VP, and I had a direct line to him when I needed it.)

"So, Jocko, if you had that sort of access, why didn't you bypass your boss and get the 2N918s or the plastic version? Wouldn't that have fixed your problem?"

No. Because he also came from Collins. And would ask my idiot boss why I was all wound up so tight. Nope, could not have done that. But get him to light a fire under Purchasing up north.................yep, no problema.

"So, how did the issue resolve?"

Well, funny that you should ask.

We kvetched to Collins about a lot of other stuff. Rockwell owned Collins at this point, and their idea of quality and innovation was to put a new coat of paint on increasingly thin sheet metal chassis.

So, after who knows how many months, they showed up for a dog and pony show. Trumpeting all their solutions to problems that should have never made it past Manufacturing QC.

And their solution.....................drum roll, please............

Use 2N918s in place of the funky ones.

Which is what we said months earlier.

And the problem:

Seems there was metal migration in the silicon. Not much, but enough to make all those 70 MHz IF amps a bit wonky when hot.
"Major Danby, sir."
"Danby. D-A-N-B-Y."
"Take him out and shoot him."
"Sir?"
"I said take him out and shoot him. Can't you hear?"

Gen. Dreedle

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Re: Tales from The Cage
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2011, 04:06:49 PM »
Been thinking long and hard about the next installment. So many tales, so much typing involved.

OK, "Herbie".

Herbie was some clueless git that we hired as a repair tech. Must have come from one of those useless schools that you see advertised on late night TV. You know, the ones where they give guys who want to study drafting the ridiculous notion that they will actually get to design stuff.

Other than draw what guys like me give them to draw.

Anyway.........Herbie.........as clueless as they come. The boss had the idea of getting Herbie interested in Ham radio, as this was still in the era when "ham radio" meant building something on your own. He figured that if Herbie had more practice on real electronics, that he might "get it". (He never did. At least not in his brief career with us.)

So, Herbie comes in one day, and announces how neat Ham radio is. Told us about all the guys he had been talking to. (I guess that he learned Morse code in the Boy Scouts. Do they still learn Morse code?) But I knew that he could not have even a Novice license. (Too dumb, combined with too little time since the Boss put the bug in his head.)

"Uh.........Herbie.........you know that you need to have a license to transmit in the ham bands?"
"Yeah."
"Well, how did you get a license so quick?"
"I didn't."
"So, you are transmitting without a license, right?"
"Yeah."
"And how then did you talk to anyone without having a proper call sign?"
"Oh, I just made some up."

That gives you an idea what we are dealing with here. But that is just background info. Along with he drive a Chevy Vega, and actually thought that it was a well-engineered car! (OK, not his fault the the morons at GM made their engineers take a neat idea that Alcoa had for an aluminum engine, and cost reduce it to total crap.)

Ok, background info on the wonderful world of telecom. The entire phone system works on either -48 V or -24 V DC. That is right: positive ground. (The reason that I heard had something to do with electrolysis. Easier to clean the negative battery posts and connections than all the ground connections...........)

So, you had to get used to making the red/hot lead the negative lead, and the black/ground lead the positive lead.

Unless...........of course...........if you are...........Herbie.

Herbie would swear that there was absolutely, positively, no way in hell that electrons would flow that way. Nope, ground had to be negative.

Herbie would take one of our lab supplies, during lunch hour, and futz with his horrible looking Ham radio monstrosities. Red to positive, black to negative. Yep, he took our connections down, and hooked them up his way.

And would leave it that way. Despite all of us cussing him out every day at about 1:03 PM. (Can you see where this is heading?)

So, one day, one of our most knowledgeable engineers was testing some gear that he had to take to the field. That afternoon. (OK, technically, it was the next day. But his plane left that afternoon.) Now, this engineer was not intimately familiar with Herbie. He knew who he was, and what a doofus he was, but was totally unaware about Herbie's recent conversion to illicit Ham radio operator. Or his "electrons can't flow that way" dogma.

So, after Herbie does his Ham radio number, he hooks back up all this gear, but just had to make the red the positive............and the black the negative..........

The guy turns on his gear, and smoke went everywhere. This proved Herbie's convention that electrons won't flow the wrong way. Because it smoke when hooked up the Herbie way.

I would have fired him right then. Took a few more months.
"Major Danby, sir."
"Danby. D-A-N-B-Y."
"Take him out and shoot him."
"Sir?"
"I said take him out and shoot him. Can't you hear?"

Gen. Dreedle

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Re: Tales from The Cage
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2011, 04:08:51 PM »
Ok, a new installment, taken from current events. Won't mention names or companies. Yes, they may be guilty, but my goal is to entertain, not ruin reputations.

On last month's credit card bill, I saw a charge from a company that I buy from. But I hadn't bought anything from them that month. (Hey, I'm almost broke: I know how much I spend and when I spend it.) So, I call them, get the usual runaround from dept to another, and end up leaving a voice mail for some unfortunate young lady.

Call the credit card guys, and 'splain the situation. Mainly wanted to make sure that the amount in question would not be included in my autodraft payment. (I pay off the entire balance every month. And since I know how much that payment can be, I can not afford to let them have my money while we fight over who does or does not get it.)

Seems that I was billed for something that I had already paid for (by credit card, of course) back in February. Why they charged me again...............? The cc guys researched my account, and found a charge from those guys, for the identical amount, back then. So, they "fix" the problem, and the amount goes into "dispute".

OK, problem solved, right?

So I thought.........................

This month's statement shows up on Wednesday.

"Your account is past due. Please call 1-800-BR-549."

Call the number:

"Thank you for calling 'Shylock Bank' (not the real name, of course). This is not a working number. Please call.............." some other number, but not the main cc number.

(I figured that by calling that number I would get to the heart of the problem sooner. Wrong!)

So, to hell with that second number, probably wrong as well. Call the main number.

Long story short, here is what they think is going on:

The bad guys, realising that they screwed up, refunded my money. Since that met the minimum payment, the autopay was somehow canceled. So, there is now an outstanding balance, with finance and other sundry charges.

And, oh, yeah...........my cc is locked until I fork over the money that they never took out of my account. So, they have to make an electronic payment, and wait a day or so for it all to clear before they release my card again.

So, now it is Friday, and I should be able to use my card. Troubles over, right?

Wrong!

I get a call from some other young lady, in some place called Waseka. Turns out the bad guys have an office that takes care of the credit cards from some other office halfway across the country that I buy from.

Not sure what her problem is, but she wants me to help her. Seems my cc has now charged them for the amount of the bogus bill. But since they sent me a refund, through the cc, they are now out the money.

"So, why is this my problem? You started the problem, made me waste an entire hour on Wednesday, and now you want me to bail you out? I'm sorry, but I don't see how this is my problem. You started it, you fix it!"
"But we can not ask your bank to refund our money."
"But you don't seem to understand why I should. Because you have already caused me lots of grief. I have no incentive to help you to fix the problem that you created."
"But we can't get our money back."
"And I don't care!"
"But only you can get your bank to do that?"
"Maybe yes, maybe no. But I am not in the mood to help you people."

Anyway, thinking that they may black list me until they get their money back, I call the cc guys again.

They are confused, so they bounce me around.............some more.........and I end up with the dispute resolution folks. 'Splain the problem to them.

"So, why are they calling you about that?"
"That is what I thought. Even if I could help, I don't see why I should."
"Well, you can't either. They have to call their merchant services bank. They should know that. That is how disputes are handled."

Hmmm.........I now see what their punishment will be: the 2 banks will squabble back and forth, create red tape, drag their feet and obfuscate the issue to death for a several months. Then, they should get their money back.

Serves them right.

So, I 'splain this to someone that I........ah......we have some bidnis dealings together of some sort. (All legit, just not any of your business, and best I not drag his name in as well. Associating with me is never good for anyone's business.)

"DON'T EVER MAKE A REFUND PAYMENT!!!!!!!!!!! IT WILL TAKE FOREVER TO GET YOUR MONEY BACK. WORST THING I HAD EVER DONE!" Etc.

Like I said, serves them right.

And to think that the banks can't make money. If they tie up everyone's funds that are in dispute for several months..........you get the idea.
"Major Danby, sir."
"Danby. D-A-N-B-Y."
"Take him out and shoot him."
"Sir?"
"I said take him out and shoot him. Can't you hear?"

Gen. Dreedle

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Re: Tales from The Cage
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2011, 04:09:53 PM »
Back when I worked at the big telecom company, we had a Sr VP of Engineering that was a lot like me. Short, mean, short-tempered, dictatorial, and well, no tolerance for BS. I liked him: everyone else was terrified of him.

I was watching Faux News the other day. (Who could imagine I would watch Faux News?) They were down in AZ, talking about the illegal criminal problem. They showed the Marine test range, down by Yuma.

Well...............

We put in a 2 GHz shot, for the range. We took an ITT radio, that was built for the railroad (low) 2 GHz band. We had to tune it for the Common Carrier (high) 2 GHz band. I was out, on medical leave, when the conversion was made. Not sure how the guys in charge did it, but they managed to chop off bits of the interdigital filters and matching networks, to get the damn thing to work. (It had problems, and by the time I figured out what was wrong, we had plans to put a MaComm radio in its place. Which is another story, for another time. It was a POC, of the highest order.)

Anyway, something came across my desk, one day. Something about R&D tax credits. We were supposed to show how much time we had spent on various "R&D projects", so we could get a tax break.

One of the projects......................."Unsuccessful attempt to modify ITT radio at Yuma."

Unsuccessful??? Hell, the damn thing was paying everyone's salary. OK, it had some problems, and I had just figured out what was wrong. (When they changed from low band, to high band, no one figured out some IF components worked on a different sideband. No one read the part of the service manual where it showed you had to reverse the polarity of the phase detector in the AFC module. No wonder it wouldn't stay on frequency!) So, I read through the rest of this thing, and realized it was not only wrong about that, but had lots of typos and grammatical and punctuation errors.


Hmmm.........no way this came from the Sr VP's office. He was a stickler for detail. But, it had his name attached. Not his signature, just name. And no mention of where to send it back to.

OK............I was not afraid of the "White Tornado", as he was called. So, I called him up, and asked what he wanted me to do with it.

He had no idea what I was talking about.

"Well, I had my doubts it came from your office. Too many typos, and get this..............'unsuccessful attempt at modifying ITT radio at Yuma.' I have parts for it, that I am fixing, in my hands."

Anyway, the boss didn't seem to care what I did with it, although I suspect he was intrigued when I suggested he look into who was sending out crap, under his name. Especially when he had no knowledge of it.

Did some digging............found the guy who wrote. Called him up. (He was in DC, with all the bigwigs.)

Started in by reaming him out for the Yuma gaff.

"Unsuccessful? Who told you it was unsuccessful? It is paying your salary, at this very moment. I know, because I am the guy who fixes all the parts. On top of that, there is no way this came out of ___ _______'s office, as he would not send out something with all these typos out. To say nothing of something that stupid. Not only that, but you didn't say where to return it to."
"Well, return it to me, of course."
"But I am down here in Texas. I don't know who you are. You better hope ___ _______ doesn't, because I just got off of the phone with him. And I don't think he was amused by all the screw-ups I pointed out."

The far end went silent. I think there was a "brown note", that was silent.

No idea what ever happened to him, but he deserved it, I am sure.
"Major Danby, sir."
"Danby. D-A-N-B-Y."
"Take him out and shoot him."
"Sir?"
"I said take him out and shoot him. Can't you hear?"